While I understand the technical difference between ripping a board in two vs resawing a board into thinner boards, is there a technical reason for the distinction?

Granted, thinner pieces of wood will flex more substantially during cuts on a resaw and binding while cutting is a concern, but that's a difference of degree not type, and would remain true when ripping boards into smaller sections as well.

For instance, if I were to saw a 4x4 into two 2x4s, is that operation a rip or a resaw?

It would seem to be more reasonable to label the cut according to it's orientation relative to the grain like we do with the crosscut. Presumably "quarter-sawing" perpendicular to a consistent set of rings of alternating density is mechanically distinct from "rift/plain-sawing" mostly between the rings, resulting in different stresses on the blade and wood.

Bonus question: Is there research that discusses the differences in these two cutting processes?

3 Answers 3


Resawing is a type of rip cut (always, without exception). The reason for the different terms is that ripping cuts are all cuts along the grain but not all rip cuts are resawing.

Resawing, as the term is used today, refers only to cutting a board across its thickness, i.e. sawing a thick board into two (or more) thinner boards. You are literally re-sawing the board from its original sawn thickness.

A standard rip cut performed on the same starting board would be reducing its width.

For instance, if I were to saw a 4x4 into two 2x4s, is that operation a rip or a resaw?

It's both, but wouldn't normally be referred to as a resawing operation.

I don't think this is because a 4x4 isn't generally referred to as a board (although that distinction is largely arbitrary), but if you sawed it instead into three or four or five boards, that would then be resawing certainly even if it wouldn't commonly be thought of or described that way — lots of idiosyncratic or irregular use of terminology in woodworking, as well as regional and dialectical differences.

It would seem to be more reasonable to label the cut according to it's orientation relative to the grain like we do with the crosscut.

No, because the orientation of the grain, as I think you're referring to, isn't relevant. Resawing is a type of rip cut as already stated, so in one way the cut is always along the grain but the angle of the cut as it relates to the grain in the wood the other way (more radial than tangential, more tangential than radial) is not relevant to the type of operation, thinning the board is the only criterion that defines resawing.

Bonus question: Is there research that discusses the differences in these two cutting processes?

I'm giggling inside at this, we do love to over-analyse things. Anyway not that I'm aware of. Why would there need to be? We can call resawing anything we want for all the difference in makes in what the operation is, or how it's done.

I bet in other languages resawing wouldn't be a simple translation of re- saw, it could be a specialist woodworking word stemming from the historical name for the cut with no exact parallel in English (there are a few examples of this in French, German and Swedish).

But regardless of the word(s) used in all cases it will simply refer to a type of rip cut performed to cut a thicker board into thinner boards.

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    So, all resawing is ripping, but not all ripping is considered resawing. It goes back to grade school language lessons about the difference between connotation and detonation. Both terms denote the same thing, but there is a difference in connotation, as you discussed.
    – Ast Pace
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 3:25
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    @AstPace <kaboom> :-)
    – Graphus
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 8:02
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    Thanks for the answer! My bonus question was referring to the mechanics of rift/plain vs quarter-sawing, where the irregularities in wood density could be expected to change the mechanics of the cut, not in ripping vs resawing, which is, as you note, purely a linguistic distinction... You might be interested in my next exercise project - a series of half-dimension Gottshall blocks! Hoping to work it all with chisels, coping saw, and a tiny handsaw... :D Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 12:37
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    Best of luck with the Gottshall blocks! I hope your mark-up fu is strong. Once you're done with these (assuming you haven't lost the will to live) if you're interested in further exercises of this type I can point you to a handful of others. They're not all as hard (one is assuredly more difficult <shudder>) but they're each still challenging in their way.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 18:11
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    Why half-scale by the way, just for punishment or do you normally work on quite small stuff where very high accuracy is a requirement?
    – Graphus
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 18:11

There is a distinction because the actions are different. You must make considerably different considerations when resawing than when ripping, and those considerations are not specific to the grain direction, but to the dimensions of the board. Resawing is splitting the thickness of a board, whereas ripping is splitting the width of a board. The thickness is the smaller of the two dimensions, which causes the process of making that cut much more difficult. You are relying on your fence more than the table in most cases, and are burying your blade in considerably more material.

  • I understand that. I also went over that in the question itself. And no, resawing a 1x4 inch wide board is not "burying your blade in more material" than ripping a 4x4. The stressors have to do with the depth of the material irrespective of the type of cut. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 13:13
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    It is relative to ripping the 1x4 though, which is where there difference is. The terms change not at a specific dimension, but relative to the cuts for a single board. Cutting the thickness of a board vs the width. You are using the 4x4 as an erroneous example. The reality is, resawing that 1x4 is fundamentally a different operation than ripping that 1x4. If I am telling a sawyer how to cut a board, and I tell him to rip it in half, he will make two 1x2s. If I tell him to resaw it in half, he will make two 0.5x4 boards. If you do the same for a 4x4, it doesn't matter which term ultimately. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 13:26
  • I already know that a resaw is the thickness and ripping is the width - that's implicit in the question. So you've answered the 4x4, but you've effectively ignored the remainder of my question. the "fundamental difference" is the precautions we take in the sawing and how much we consider binding and bowing. All of which as I stated in the question are changes in degree not type. The 4x4 is an extreme example but not erroneous, it was intentionally chosen to show the arbitrariness of the terminology. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 13:52
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    I haven't ignored it, I've simply explained that the orientation of the cross-grain is not a factor in the definition of these cuts, and you are saying you think it should be. The only way grain factors in, is both cuts are different than a cross-cut in that they are parallel to the face grain. You already know that, as you have stated as well. Any further discussion or conclusions we come to here will not affect the way those terms are used, or have been used for centuries, in the world of woodworking. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 14:03
  • That's not really a technical reason then. So your answer is "No, it's just convention" and "it doesn't matter." Ok. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 14:15

I could see these concepts getting confusing because there is some correlation between the two.

As discussed in this answer ripping or a rip cut is:

With the rip cut, you cut along the grain

So ripping has nothing to do with the dimensions of the wood but the grain direction

Resawing is the process of taking larger boards and converting them into smaller ones or veneers. The cuts are typicall rip cuts in this process. As discussed ,on FineWoodWorking, on setting up your bandsaw for resaw:

Video still from FineWoodworking

This doesn't just apply to thinning board but processing timber as well which will have obviously non uniform cross grain. Basically when you are resawing you could be ripping as well. Ripping is the cut and resawing is the process. This is how I understand it.

  • I've seen at least one source that claims that resawing is a type of cut related to board size. I looked and can't find it again now. But I wonder if this is one of those things where different people use the same terms to mean different things? Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 15:14
  • @CharlieKilian Probably. This happens a lot here. There might be multiple definitions here that could be age related. More research is needed to confirm. This seems to agree with you but after reading it still just seems like ripping to me (perhaps a specific kind of rip?). I am looking for something more definitive.
    – Matt
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 15:16
  • That ultimately reinforces my understanding and all I have been able to find. Both ripping and resawing are cuts made parallel to the grain, whereas a cross-cut is perpendicular. The only differentiation is that resawing is splitting the thickness to maker two 'thinner' boards from one 'thick' one, as your image above also alludes to in its use of 'thinner'. In any case, I haven't found any case where it is referencing, or accounting for the orientation of the cross grain (plain sliced vs quartersawn, etc.) Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 15:27
  • @Matt I've seen it used both ways, and my gut says it depends on whether someone is more familiar with the business of a lumber mill, or more familiar with the day to day work of woodworking, that determines how its used. But I could be wrong about that. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 15:27

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